Friday, January 3, 2014

Our Honeymoon - Day 16 - Rafting the Pacaure River

Today we woke early for our rafting trip down the Pacuare River on the Caribbean side of the country. It was an amazing trip filled with great rapids, waterfalls and our first Costa Rican jungle experience. We didn't see too many animals because we were too busy steering through rapids.  We had a great group in our raft so our guide took us down the gnarliest rapids.  After a great day on the river the rafting company then provided transportation for us to La Fortuna.

Today was amazing.  It was hard to wake up so early in the morning but we were able to sneak some breakfast at the hotel before being picked up by Manuel from Exploradores, our rafting company, around 6:15am.  There was a nice Mexican family in the van with us and we also stopped to pick up Danny and Karen from New England, at their hotel in San Jose.  From there it was a couple hours drive to the headquarters of the rafting company at the takeout of the Pacuare River on the Carribean side of Costa Rica, just west of Limon.  

At the headquarters they had a wonderful breakfast of eggs, fruit, bread, beans and rice and little hot dogs prepared for us.  We were the first to arrive and were surprised there was no one else but soon other vans began to arrive from all over the region and the place was filled with rafters.  Once everyone had eaten we locked all our belongings in big lockers and packed into vans that would climb about 2000 feet into the mountains towards our put-in.  Along the way a guide named Carlos explained all about the rafting rowing and safety techniques in a very humorous way, while the driver literally drove like a madman up the steep hills of the mountainous region.  When we started our descent from the main road down to the river I was honestly more worried about the brakes failing on the van than any of the class 3 or 4 rapids we would experience.

I'm not sure when we got started but the whole trip was about 30 miles and took around 4 hours on the river with a stop for lunch of quesadillas on the riverbank near old tribal huts.  We ended up with Sala (Mexican girl), Mike (solo traveler from Vancouver, CA), Karen, Danny, Emily and I all in a boat with Manuel who we first met on the trip to the headquarters.  At first I was worried because Manuel was quiet on the ride to the put-in but honestly, and I'm not exaggerating for effect, I think he was the most badass guide of them all.  

Our guide was pretty impressed by our synchronized paddling from the start and he took us down the hardest lines the low water, technical river had to offer.  On nearly every rapid we found ourselves headed towards the biggest holes and waves, far from the other line of rafts that were clearly taking the safer routes.  On one of the bigger holes the front of the boat with Danny and I literally went skyward with Sala and Karen being tossed like dolls from the boat!  Thankfully, we were quick to pull them back into the boat with us.

At lunch, about 3 hours into the trip, I took the time to wander around the old tribal huts and lush forest looking for creatures.  I was able to spot a large lizard, a red poison frog with blue legs, a bright green frog, lots of butterflies and some really pretty flowers and vegetation.  When I was hiking up a side path I got to a gate with Karen and Danny behind me and decided to turn around.  This was a good choice as I was one step away from walking into a massive spider web with a huge mean looking spider in the middle of it... lucky.  Lunch was delicious with fresh cut pineapple and even a cracker with jam and whipped cream for desert.  Although I had my gps on up to lunch the memory had reached 99% from our trip so far so I turned it off and just relied on the waterproof Nikon GPS for geotagging for the rest of the river.

Back on the river after lunch the rapids seemed a lot easier and we were all able to jump into the river and swim a bit in one of the several beautiful slot canyons we floated through.  All in all, the rafting wasn't that scary, and with good paddling the technical sections of rocks with low water weren't that difficult.  I have no idea how they think they can paddle the river if it gets much lower...  We saw a lot of birds on the river and even some large insect nests in the trees along the way.  We found ourselves in beautiful deep canyons with lush rainforest all around us for the whole trip.  Waterfalls and singing birds and insects were abundant and everyone in all the rafts seemed to really enjoy themselves.  

At the takeout we simply walked up a hill, put our gear into a large barn and sat down again at the headquarters for a beer after changing into dry clothes.  We tipped Manuel $13000 Colones ($30 USD) grabbed a couple beers and photo CD, then piled back into a van with some others for a 3 hour drive to La Fortuna in the Arenal Volcano region to the north.  Manuel said that providing the transport for guests really increased the number of people that chose their company, us being two of them.  He explained that the river is considered one of the top in the world for beauty and is the longest river rafting run you can do in Costa Rica.  Yeah, it was a fun day.  Now I find myself in the van heading to La Fortuna at 5:30pm with the sun setting in 80 degree weather... a far cry from puffy jackets and 11pm sunsets in Patagonia just a day before!

We got into La Fortuna around 8pm and were dropped off downtown in front of the Arenal Hostel Resort where we would stay to explore the Arenal Volcano area for the next 3 days.  It was a really cool place and we had room 102, which was a private room with a bath whereas the majority of rooms were shared.  We arrived with two girls from the rafting trip that were on school break from Texas and they joined us at the bar for our welcome drink which was a rum & juice cocktail of some kind.  

There was a central yard in the hostel with palm trees, hammocks and a swim up pool bar where we found ourselves eating some dinner for the night.  I had a chicken fajita plate which oddly didn't come with anything to wrap the chicken in.  We met another cool brother-sister duo from Canada (Hanna or Anna and ?) who were touring Costa Rica as well on a break from school it seemed (basically we felt old).  After a few drinks and discovering that Cuba Libre was a Ron (rum) & Coke we were off to bed for another early start in the morning.

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